Sci-Fi Fodder

Real Life Sci-Fi: Morality Relaxer

Cory Doctorow once wrote that "science fiction writers don't predict the future (except accidentally), but if they're very good, they may manage to predict the present." That's what I am going to shoot for in this new feature that I am calling "Real Life Sci-Fi", or RLSF (as everything needs an acronym).

In this feature, I am going to look at real technologies that would make good topics for fantastic new Sci-Fi stories. Heck, some of the ideas may *already* be stories...and if they are, leave a comment with the book you found it in.

Today's topic - "Magnetic fields can alter moral judgments"

Neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have demonstrated that they can alter a person's moral judgment by applying a magnetic field to a specific brain region.

The tech side behind the idea is that the magnetic field disrupts the portion of the brain that governs moral judgments. In general, people tend to judge situations on a different scale, depending on the intention of the perpetrator of the act. For example, subjects were asked to judge how permissible it is for someone to let a person to walk across a bridge he knows to be unsafe, even if the person ends up making it across safely. According to the study, 'normal people' consider allowing the person to cross the bridge somewhat culpable (i.e. morally wrong) even if the girl crossed the bridge without issue.

Now, the interesting part - when the magnetic field is applied to the observers, they tended to judge that allowing the person to cross the bridge was morally permissible, as long as the bridge didn't actually collapse.

The Sci-Fi implications of creating a device that could change the viewpoint of a situation are huge. A witness to a crime could be manipulated to find the crime 'harmless'. It's not that far of a leap to imaging mind control springing from this type of technology. Imagine a violent dictator, with a juiced-up version of the magnetic field generator. He could sway public opinion to approve of his actions in order to keep power.

This technology also has me wondering about "Lost". The writers, at one time, said that the events surrounding the island all could be explained scientifically. Since the island has pockets of strong magnetic fields, and this technology exists - perhaps Jacob is manipulating the decisions in more than just a supernatural way!